Hats Off: Farrells come to the aid of a stranger

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, January 19, 2014

Who: Tony Farrell Sr., and his wife, Londa. Tony is a volunteer deputy coroner for Rock County. The couple have a long list of volunteer efforts.

What they did: The Farrells were going into the Janesville Wal-Mart on Jan. 3 when Londa noticed a plastic bag on the pavement between two parked cars. Tony thought it was trash.

Turns out, a woman who had lost her purse was using the bag to carry her cash, credit cards and ID. To make matters worse, she was from California and was visiting her ill mother in Janesville. She had left Wal-Mart without realizing she had lost the bag.

Tony called Rock County dispatch's nonemergency number, but police were busy, he was told. It would take them some time to arrive. The couple took the bag to the Wal-Mart service counter and asked if anyone had called about the lost bag. No one had.

This was during the post-Christmas rush, with long lines at customer service, and Tony worried the bag would get lost in the shuffle. But the Farrells knew the woman would be calling, panicking about her lost valuables.

Tony even called the police department, where he knew some of the sergeants. The weather was horrible, and officers were busy with traffic calls.

“Let's wait,” Londa said.

So they did, for about 90 minutes.

The woman arrived with her brother and stood at the end of the long line. Londa recognized her from her photo identification, which they could see through the bag.

“My wife walked up to her and said, 'ma'am, are you Barbara?' And she looked kind of shocked, and said, 'yes I am,' and Londa said 'we have your bag.' The lady was so excited.”

Turns out the Californian had worked with children with disabilities all her life, and the Farrells had done some volunteering for children with disabilities, so they chatted about it.

Tony, known as a stickler for the rules and a former commander with the Beloit Police Reserve Unit, said he would like an officer present to catalog the items and make sure everything was there.

But the woman needed to get to her mother, so Tony asked her to check the bag in front of witnesses, which she did.

“She said, 'just perfect,'” Tony recalled.

“They gave us a big hug. They were just excited. Just wonderful people.”

Why they did it: “That's the great thing about living in Janesville, living in Rock County,” Tony said. “I have friends that would've done the same thing. … My wife and I felt good about helping someone who was unfortunate.”

What others say: “He could've just blown it off and given it to the security guys,” said Lou Smit, acting Rock County coroner. Smit has no complaints about Wal-Mart, but he said there have been instances of stores not handling lost items properly.

Tony identified himself as a sworn deputy coroner during the incident, which is how this came to Smit's attention.

'He's a stickler for the rules,” Smit said of Farrell.

Smit honored Farrell on Saturday with a citation for this act and also for his ongoing suicide-prevention efforts,

Everyone on the staff gives suicide-prevention talks, but Farrell is especially dedicated, Smit said. “I think he talks to somebody just about every day.”

Smit said the county peaked at 32 suicides in 2011 but saw only 17 in 2013. The recent statistic could increase by one or two more as toxicology tests come in.

Smit is particularly pleased that Rock County has not had an underage suicide for about 18 months. That's well below the national average, which is two underage suicides for every adult suicide, he said.

What's next?” Anyone who knows the Farrells knows that they will downplay this act and continue their service to the community.

Last updated: 4:25 pm Sunday, January 19, 2014

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